Bolts Prospect Analysis: Halfback, Part III

Jaime Cattano concludes her three-part series dissecting the running back prospects the Chargers met with during Senior Bowl week. The final prospect possesses a dynamite combination of soft hands, fluid footwork and stark instincts. He could be the player who best fits the Chargers' system...if it weren't for those red flags.

The Chargers coaching staff pulled Rafael Little of University of Kentucky aside for a private meeting during the Senior Bowl week. Needless to say, they weren't the only team to show interest.

"Let's just say a lot of them," Little said. "I can't even name all of them."

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Wildcat led his team in rushing and punt returns for three consecutive seasons, ending his senior year with 1,037 rushing yards. Twice in his career, he had 100 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards in the same game. His sound field sense guided him to make the right adjustments at the Senior Bowl.

"It's hard learning the plays," he said. "I'm used to the plays at my school, so once I arrived in Mobile I had to learn a whole new system. It's like starting all over again."

After outstanding freshman and sophomore years at Kentucky, Little endured a stretch of bad breaks. Knee and thigh injuries left him sidelined for hefty periods during his junior and senior years.

Little showed enough ability during his senior season to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl. During practices, he proved himself to be an unyielding outside runner with explosive cut-backs and tremendous hands.

"It's been great here," said Little from Mobile, Ala. "I had to worry about learning the plays. Once I learned them, everything else seemed to go smoothly."

Things did not go as smoothly as Little anticipated. He endured the worst-case scenario for any draft prospect -- an injury. He left the field in the first half of the Senior Bowl game with a sprained MCL in his left knee. With surgery on the forefront, he will be forced to skip the NFL Combine and likely his Pro Day, as well.

The Chargers have no choice but to question Little's durability. Michael Turner will soon depart as a free agent and the Chargers need a dependable backup to LaDainian Tomlinson.

Turner was brilliant in spot duty and stepped in during the postseason to deliver a couple astounding performances. While his shoes will be difficult to fill, Little is confident he has what it takes.

"I'm a motivated back that can absolutely help a team out in an area it might lack," he said.

His durability might be a concern, but it is unlikely to scare off A.J. Smith. The Chargers GM has been known to acquire risky players. Antonio Cromartie -- the Bolts' first-round pick in 2006 -- only started one game in college due to a torn ACL. Cromartie led the NFL with 10 interceptions in just his second season.

Little is confident he can provide a similar payoff.

"I'm a hard-working player and I'm ready to go full speed every play. Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll do it."

Because of Little's injury concerns, he will likely be selected late in the draft. That makes him the kind of low-risk, high-reward player Smith loves to take chances on.

Little's inherent ball protection, superior agility and rapid cutting are just the combination the Bolts need. If the Chargers neglect to choose a running back in rounds 1-4, look for Little to get heavy consideration.


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